On June 4, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) elected Ambassador Tijani Muhammad-Bande its president for the 2019–2020 term. The presidency rotates between representatives of the five regional groups in UNGA.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Muhammad-Bande is one of the most distinguished Nigerians of his generation. An academic, diplomat, and administrator, from 2009 to 2018, he was the director general of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Nigeria’s premier policy institute. President Buhari named him Nigeria’s permanent representative to the UN in 2018.
Muhammad-Bande is an institution builder. Before NIPSS, he was the vice-chancellor (equivalent to an American university president) of Usman Danfodio University in Sokoto. He also served as director general of the African Training and Research Center in Administration and Development in Tangier, Morocco, one of Africa’s leading nurseries of public servants. Born in 1957 in northern Nigeria, Muhammad-Bande has degrees from Ahmadu Bello University, Boston University, and a PhD in political science from the University of Toronto.
Nigeria joins Argentina and Ecuador as the only countries to have supplied twice a president of UNGA, Nigeria’s first being its permanent representative Joe Garba in 1989. Muhammad-Bande will be a highly effective “face” of African and Nigerian diplomacy. Thoughtful, friendly, free of bombast, and with fresh ideas, he is likely to be influential in his new position.
But, Nigeria’s internal security challenges reduces the bandwidth for diplomatic activism. Nigeria’s resources are stretched thin at home and it is scaling down its diplomatic presence abroad. Nevertheless, the UN General Assembly is usually regarded in Abuja as one of the most important venues for Nigerian diplomacy.